Last night the 10th ranked Missouri Tigers added another impressive win to their early season resume, taking down Villanova 81-71 at Madison Square Garden. While the Tigers had already passed their first “test” of the season in Kansas City, last night presented a new challenge for Mizzou, defending a legitimate big man.
With star forward, and defensive stud, Laurence Bowers out for the season, the big man duties fall squarely on the shoulders of senior Ricardo Ratliffe. Mouphataou Yarou has been enjoying a breakout season for Villanova, averaging almost 16 points and eight rebounds a game. He was expected to be the difference maker for the Wildcats yesterday, as it is generally perceived that interior defense is the Tigers’ greatest weakness.
Instead, Yarou wasn’t the difference maker at all, Ratliffe was. Not only did Ratliffe do an excellent job of defending Yarou, he dominated on the offensive end as well. In 33 minutes (a season high), Ratliffe scored 17 points on 8-8 shooting, and added 11 rebounds (five offensive). He held Yarou to just 11 points, and limited him to just seven shots on the night, all without getting into the foul trouble that has plagued him throughout his time at Missouri.
Yarou had trouble all night getting good position down low. Often getting the ball far outside of the paint, or near the top of the key. Positioning is half the battle (as Ratliffe showed on the other end, he practically lived under the basket all night) and Yarou struggled to get the advantage. Same can be said for rebounding, Ratliffe stayed active on the glass and boxed out Yarou effectively. Good rebounding has always been Mizzou’s biggest problem, but last night, against a good rebounding opponent, it wasn’t. Credit Ratliffe.
Games like last night are exactly what Missouri needs from Ratliffe all season long, especially in Big 12 play. He showed he can defend a high level big man without spending most of the night on the bench. He controlled the glass, and kept a number of Missouri possessions alive. Offensively he was efficient, and he will have a chance to continue that all season, thanks to Phil Pressey and Marcus Denmon getting him open looks.
Missouri is going to be a major factor in the Big 12 this year, and their guards will win them a lot of games. To beat Baylor and Kansas though, Missouri needs inside play. Last night Ratliffe showed that he is capable of providing that, and then some. Perry Jones and Quincy Acy are a different animal than Mouphtaou Yarou, but its good to know Missouri has a big man capable of keeping up with the big boys.
Other Notes from last night
Phil Pressey’s shot comes and goes, but his passing and defense don’t. There will be some games during conference play where he won’t miss much, which should really scare the opposition.
Marcus Denmon is legitimately a first team All-American right now. He’s an elite scorer, great shooter, but also a really good rebounder. Not sure he ends up on the first team at the end of the year, but if he keeps playing like this, he’ll deserve to.
Missouri was able to beat a high major team, essentially on the road, despite most of the team shooting the ball poorly. Encouraging sign.
Missouri’s next game is Friday night against Navy.